CRICKET chiefs have discussed taking affirmative action at lower levels to fast-track players from migrant backgrounds, as Pakistan-born refugee Fawad Ahmed considers an offer to represent Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League.
The push to change the predominantly Anglo-Australian face of the game is led by Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, and was discussed at last Friday's conference of state associations.
At the same meeting, Cricket Australia resolved to change its regulations, broadening the definition of a local player to include those on track to become Australian citizens, to allow Ahmed to compete in the league.
A CA spokesman explained the proposal to accelerate the progress of talented young cricketers from diverse backgrounds was underpinned by a desire for inclusiveness, and would not influence the selection of elite teams.
''What we talked about at the chief executives' conference was when you think about where our traditional support lies, you could make a case for affirmative action around the identification and development of talent,'' Peter Young said.
''You would never see a national team selected on anything other than independent selectors' views about merit, but when you look at our pathway and the development of Australian cricket … James is personally very committed to the issue of cricket being a sport for all Australians. We need to be Australia's favourite sport for men, women, children, for Sudanese immigrants and for any major group in the community that you can think of.''
Australian cricket has been slow to attract migrants from Europe and Asia, though progress has been made through initiatives such as Cricket Victoria's Harmony in Cricket program.
Usman Khawaja, the first Muslim to play cricket for Australia, has played six Tests and has made impressive strides in seeking to reclaim a spot in the team, while New South Wales fast bowler Gurinder Sandhu recently played at the under-19 World Cup, one of the few Australians of Indian descent to represent his country.
Cricket Australia knows Ahmed, the 30-year-old leg-spinner who was granted permanent residency by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen last week, can be a powerful role model, but there was nothing tokenistic about the decision to clear him to play in the BBL.
Senior cricket figures are hard-pressed to name a wrist spinner in the country who is ahead of him, and with Victoria's No. 1 spinner Jon Holland sidelined with a long-term injury, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could represent the Bushrangers.
Ahmed, a devout Muslim, was sponsored by a cricket association to come to Australia in 2010 on a short-stay visa. He sought asylum, basing his claim on persecution from hard-line religious groups for his role as a cricketer, coach and supporter of an organisation that promoted economic rights and education for women.
His refugee claim was initially rejected, but since the decision was overturned by Bowen several teams in the Big Bash league have expressed interest in signing him.
It's understood the Renegades have made Ahmed an offer and are in the box seat to secure him for this summer's tournament.